Outside the Realm of God’s Love, Isaiah 56:1, 6–8, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15), August 16, 2020
It was a sweltering August day in 1937 when the Cohen brothers entered the posh Dearborn Michigan, offices of Henry Ford, the car maker. “Mr. Ford,” announced Norman Cohen, the eldest of the three. “We have a remarkable invention that will revolutionize the automobile industry.” Ford was skeptical, but he was interested. “We would like to demonstrate it to you in person.”
They brought Mr. Ford outside and asked him to enter a black automobile parked in front of the building. Hyman Cohen, the middle brother, opened the door of the car. “Please step inside, Mr. Ford.” “What!” shouted the tycoon, “Are you crazy? It must be 200 degrees in that car!”
“It is,” smiled brother, Max, “but sit down Mr. Ford, and push the white button.” Ford pushed the button. All of a sudden a whoosh of freezing air started blowing from vents all around the car, and within seconds the automobile was not only comfortable, it was quite cool. “This is amazing!” exclaimed Ford. “How much do you want for the patent?”
Norman spoke up, “The price is one million dollars, but there is something else: The name ‘Cohen Brothers Air-Conditioning’ must be stamped next to the Ford logo!” “Well, money is no problem,” retorted Ford, “but no way will I have a Jewish name next to my logo on my cars!’
They haggled and compromised, the Cohens’ name would be left off. However, their first names would be forever emblazoned upon the Ford console in AC vehicles. And that is why, even today, you will see those three names clearly printed on the air conditioning control panel: NORM, HI and MAX.
Do you think that there is anyone who is outside the realm of God’s ability to love? I’m not asking if there are people who are going to Hell. I know that not all are saved, yet as C. S. Lewis once said, the doors to Hell are locked on the inside first. God has always knocked on that door and pleaded for the inhabitants to repent and come out. It is only in the face of stubborn rejection that God locks those doors from the outside. Hell is not a sign that God does not love some people. He loves them all, and is grieved by their stubborn rejection of Him.
And God’s love is not just limited to the people of Israel. He will gather other folks to Himself as well. Being those very foreigners to which the Israelites speaks, we know that too. But as the people of God, are you and I ever just as tempted as they are to think that the love of God is somehow limited to the club of which we are a member?
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to remember that God’s love is extended to all, even those with whom we have a problem, even to those we just cast aside. Sometimes, we may have trouble welcoming strangers, welcoming strangers into God’s kingdom. But in our text today, God equips us to do just that by reminding us that our God is a God for all people. No one is outside the realm of God’s love.
Strangers were not very welcome in Isaiah’s day, especially in the temple and the festival gatherings. The people of Judah and Jerusalem took pride in being God’s chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were heirs to the land God had promised Abraham, the land Joshua conquered and David secured.
The only way for a foreigner to be welcomed was to become an Israelite first, through circumcision and obedience to the ceremonial law.
But today’s readings are tightly themed around this idea that none who comes to Christ in faith are outside the realm of God’s love. Our Old Testament Reading in particular promises salvation for those outside Israel. The prophet encourages those who are righteous that they will be delivered. All who love the Lord and keep His commandments will be gathered and none are cast aside.
There is a caution here; this reading could easily be misunderstood. Apart from the context of His covenant grace, these verses could seem to suggest some sort of “works righteousness.” It could be heard as “You better not cry; you better not shout; you better not pout; I’m telling you why“. It might be interpreted to mean that God will bring to His holy mountain those who earn such a place by serving Him, loving His name, etc. Such interpretations would be a mistake because they violate a very important principle of our faith, chiefly justification by grace alone and not by works of Law.
Within its context we know that Isaiah 56 begins the final section in the Book of Isaiah. It shifts away from the Suffering Servant toward a picture of the victorious Messiah. In chapter 55, they were to seek the Lord while He is near, and now the declaration is made that His salvation is indeed near.
And so, our text today begins with an introduction, “This is what the Lord says,” He calls us to give special attention to these words. There can be no question that God desires to bring foreigners into His kingdom and none are outside the realm of God’s love.
Then, He gives the commands to “keep justice” and “do righteousness”. Honestly, He demands more than we sinners are able to produce. Justice is the governing of our lives by God. We pray that “Thy kingdom come”, and not our own self-interest. How does God govern? With righteousness, grace, mercy, and forgiveness; in truth; and without partiality. We can only “keep justice” after they have experienced a justification by grace alone. Justice is established for God’s people, by the ministry of the Suffering Servant.
Fast-forward about 700 years, and then 2,700 years, and we see this prophecy being fulfilled. In our Gospel, Jesus grants the request of an outcast, a “foreigner,” a Canaanite woman who trusted in Him. He did what we could not. He has done righteousness. He did the righteousness that we could not ever earn on our own. Jesus kept all the commandments for you and me. He fulfilled them perfectly in our place. He took on the role as an outcast, a foreigner.
In John’s Gospel, we can find Jesus saying that whoever believes in the Son would not perish, but have eternal life (3:16). Not just those of His chosen Israelites, but “whoever.”
Later, Jesus states that He has other sheep who are not of this fold (10:16). There were others, who were outside, being recognized as His people, those He would yet bring to Himself. Through Jesus, the Lord is Lord for all people. There is no one outside the realm of God’s love.
God brings you and I to His house to receive the forgiveness won for us by Christ on the cross. God gives us joy in knowing that Jesus has done it all, and we are His forgiven sons and daughters. And God brings others into His house to receive the same forgiveness and grace won by Christ. It’s not just for you and me to be His chosen people, but for all who He calls.
It is God working through His Word and His people, and He welcomes them all! And now, He uses each of us to be His instrument to invite and encourage those around us who are not yet part of His chosen people, the Church, to join us in learning about our Savior. He exhorts us to remember that we were once on the outside looking in too, until He claimed us as His own, creating that trust in His promises that we now have. He encourages us to be welcoming of others as they hear more about Jesus as well.
Always remembering that through Jesus, God did the unexpected. He rescued us, strangers because of our sins, from eternal death. He made us His own. Our God is not a God for those who think they are good enough, or are trying hard. Our God is a God who loves even the worst sinners.
In the words of Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He was falsely accused by Jewish officials. “Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised and we esteemed Him not.” He was handed over to Roman authorities to be punished as a criminal. “Surely He took our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” He was hung on a cross as a common criminal.
“Yet we considered him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” He died the death that we deserved. “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.” He took the punishment for our thinking too highly of ourselves, for looking down our noses at others, for all of our sins.
“The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus paid for them all. Jesus rose on the third day to prove that your sins are gone and your account is clean. By His love, He has brought salvation.
Henry Ford was against anything Jewish being associated next to his name on the automobiles he manufactured. The Israelites thought they were the only ones to receive God love and promises, but no one is outside the realm of God’s love. And even today He continues to do it. He continues to give us the benefits of His death and resurrection. Through baptism, our sins were buried with Him in His death and resurrection. Now, He has given you His perfection as a gift. Isaiah again assures us, “though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.”
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus again takes from us our sin and gives to us His perfect righteousness. Through His very body and blood, given and shed for you, He once again assures you that you are not an orphan but you are part of His family. He gives you a name better than sons and daughters, He gives to you an everlasting name. He gives you His name.
Now as forgiven sinners, as foreigners ourselves, we no longer look at ourselves as better than others. We reflect the love that God has for all people. We reach out to those who the world pushes aside. We proclaim to the ostracized people around us the wonderful promises of Jesus. We show them love by listening to their problems, helping them with their needs and being sensitive to their feelings. We share with them that God loves them. God has opened His house for all the people of the world. All are welcome. He invites them to be part of the family and therefore so do we. No one is outside the realm of God’s love. Amen.